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Thursday, June 3, 2010 01:39 am

Disclosing the meekness of the ‘DISCLOSE’ bill

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At last, after weeks of analyzing, calculating, pondering, consulting and crafting, Democratic leaders in Washington have unveiled their much-awaited legislative response to the Supreme Court’s January decision in the infamous case of Citizens United. That’s the destructive dictate that allows oceans of corporate cash to flood America’s elections and drown out the voices of ordinary people.

Hold onto your socks, because — ta-dah — here is the Democrats’ response: The DISCLOSE Act! Or, by it’s full moniker, the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections” Act. (Gosh, couldn’t they have come up with a more cumbersome title?)

More to the point, couldn’t they have come up with a more proportional response to the court’s enthronement of corporate money over our people’s democratic authority? The decision was nothing less than a black-robed coup by five men — Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — who abused their positions on the bench to pervert our First Amendment.

They arbitrarily declared that self-serving, bloodless corporate entities have political “rights” that make them superior to people. The 5-4 ruling by these extremist, right-wing corporatists in the Citizens United case is the nuclear bomb of politics, for it allows any and every corporation — from Wall Street to Walmart — to pour unlimited sums of money directly from its massive treasuries into campaigns to elect or defeat its chosen ones.

And the Democrats’ response to this crass power grab — which literally legalizes the corporate purchase of our government — is a disclosure bill?

Yes. Though, in fairness, the Dems do insist that it is a “sweeping” disclosure bill. President Obama, who had publicly pledged in January to undo the court’s anti-democratic decree, lauded the DISCLOSE proposal as the fulfillment of his pledge, calling it the “toughest ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big-oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests, so the American people can follow the money and see clearly which special interests are funding political campaign activity and trying to buy representation in our government.”

Well, yes, but it’s still only a disclosure bill. The bill’s stated purpose is to help voters know who (or what) is behind paid political ads. Corporations and their front groups must put the names of an ad’s sponsors on the screen, and the top executive of the corporation or group must appear on camera to “approve” the ad. All of this is good, of course, and long overdue, but this is not going to stop a tsunami of corporate money from swamping our elections. Corporations have packs of legal beagles already chewing loopholes in the bill so corporate sponsors can obscure their involvement.

Besides, even if the disclosure provisions are airtight, they actually sanction the corporate purchase of our democracy — it’s OK to spend all you want, the bill effectively says, but you must disclose the thievery. That’s like legalizing armed robbery, as long as the robbers wear nametags.

Where is the audacity, the boldness, to do what needs to be done? The proper response here can be expressed in one word: “No.” Better yet, two words: “Hell, no!” In fact, the emphatic rejection of Citizens United is what the overwhelming majority of Americans want — 83 percent of the public (including 76 percent of Republicans) wants the ban on corporate election spending reinstated. The way to do this is through a constitutional amendment that directly reverses the court’s perversity.

Democratic congressional leaders say they abandoned such direct and effective measures because they wanted to attract bipartisan support. Really? How’d that work out for them? Big surprise: Not a single Republican senator and only one House Republican signed on as a co-sponsor of DISCLOSE.

We can’t let pusillanimous Democrats get away with this pathetic response to a historic wrong. The court can issue rulings, but We the People are the rulers. If Democrats won’t stand up, we must — after all, it’s our democracy that is being handed over to a corporate plutocracy.

To connect with grassroots efforts to overrule the court by passing a constitutional amendment, check out these groups: freespeechforpeople.org, dontgetrolled.com and movetoamend.org.   

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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